Reasons to Believe

Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground between God and Evolution

Book Review

by Kenneth R. Miller. New York, NY: Cliff Street Books/Harper Collins, 1999. 338 pages, index.

Finding Darwin’s God defends Darwinian evolution, responds to evolution’s most widely known critics, and attempts to communicate what author Ken Miller sees as a false dichotomy between evolution and traditional western monotheism. Miller, a cell biologist and professor at Brown University, has published numerous articles in peer-reviewed journals, and co-authored widely used high school and college biology textbooks. Miller has long been active in the creation/evolution debate and is a highly vocal critic of the growing Intelligent Design movement. Because of his involvement in the Origins debate, it behooves those interested in science apologetics to become familiar with his perspective and to contemplate his ideas.

Miller begins Finding Darwin’s God by introducing the reader to the “ins and outs” of Darwinian evolution. He fully embraces methodological naturalism in his approach to biology and intertwines his explanation of the evolutionary process with his case for why natural processes are sufficiently endowed and solely responsible for life’s diversity. After this introduction, Miller seeks to refute: 1) young-earth proponent’s views on creationism;  2) Phillip Johnson (author of Darwin on Trial, Reason in the Balance, The Wedge of Truth) and the Intelligent Design movement’s attack on the evolutionary paradigm; and 3) Michael Behe’s (author of Darwin’s Black Box) biochemical argument for design embodied in the concept of irreducible complexity. 

Having addressed these critics of evolution, Miller then takes on strict atheistic materialism. He finds atheistic biologists out of line when they equate the success of evolution to the death of theism.  In no uncertain terms, he blames these atheists for the negative perception much of the public holds of the theory of evolution. He sees the challenges to biological evolution not as scientifically warranted, but motivated by a deep-seated emotional response to the implications attached to evolutionary theory by atheists.

In the final three chapters, Miller devotes his efforts to dispelling the commonly held view that biological evolution represents a threat to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  Instead, he argues that Darwinian evolution can and should play a central role in rightly shaping our understanding of God’s grandeur.

In general, Finding Darwin’s God is readily accessible to the nonscientist. Ever articulate, Miller comes across as objective and fair-minded. When evaluating his arguments, however, the reader should be wary of his apparent even-handedness, winsome approach, and passion for Darwinian evolution.  For example, his defense of Darwinian evolution and his response to Johnson’s assertion that the fossil record is inconsistent with biological evolution is unconvincing—even though Miller argues his point with great zeal. He repeatedly points to examples of micro-evolutionary changes (variations within species) as supporting evidence for macro-evolutionary changes (origins of new groups of organisms at the genus level and higher).

Miller’s response to Behe’s concept of irreducible complexity appears to be quite effective on the surface. Miller cites several examples from the scientific literature that seem to describe the emergence of irreducibly complex systems strictly by natural processes. If this is the case, Behe’s Design argument comes completely unglued.  However, a careful reading of the original papers, in each case, turns up crucial details that Miller has neglected to convey.  In each instance, the omitted “fine points” highlight the inability of natural processes to generate irreducibly complex biochemical systems.  In fact, the papers he cites describe extensive researcher intervention¾without which the “evolution” of the irreducibly complex biochemistry under investigation would not have been possible.  Ironically, when this is taken into account, Miller’s argument against Behe’s biochemical evidence for Intelligent Design actually provides powerful support for Behe’s position.

Miller’s attempt to accommodate biological evolution within western theism fails, too.  Miller can only make evolution and traditional Christian theism co-exist by rejecting central tenets of orthodox Christianity¾such as God’s sovereignty and omniscience, and mankind’s original sin¾and by viewing Genesis 1 as Hebrew mythology.

Still, Miller should be commended for writing Finding Darwin’s God. It is refreshing to see a critic of Intelligent Design seriously grapple with the relationship between science and religion and attempt to discover God’s glory in His creation. Those with a serious interest in science apologetics should take the time to read Finding Darwin’s God.  Several skeptics have touted this book as one of the best responses to the Intelligent Design movement.  If this is the case, then Christian apologists should become familiar with Miller’s arguments and tactics and make every effort to prepare thoughtful responses. For non-believing skeptics will undoubtedly bring up his arguments as they dialogue with believers.  After taking Miller’s assault head on, it is comforting to realize that “one of the best” so-called rebuttals to the scientific evidence for Intelligent Design falls far short of being convincing.

Subjects: Theistic Evolution

Dr. Fazale Rana

In 1999, I left my position in R&D at a Fortune 500 company to join Reasons to Believe because I felt the most important thing I could do as a scientist is to communicate to skeptics and believers alike the powerful scientific evidence—evidence that is being uncovered day after day—for God’s existence and the reliability of Scripture. Read more about Dr. Fazale Rana